Army Taking Unmanned Lift Slow; Marines Using KMAX for Retrograde
Despite the fact that the Marine Corps is running four flights a day of the unmanned K-MAX helicopter ferrying supplies to Marines at isolated outposts in southern Afghanistan, and has delivered over two million lbs. of supplies to grunts in the field, the Army continues to slow walk its own research into unmanned lift capabiities.
The Army flew some evaluation runs with the KMAX in May, and will perform some more demonstrations with the Lockheed Martin / KAMAN Aerospace platform in May 2013, said Terry Fogarty, general manager, UAS product group, KAMAN Aerospace.
Fogarty said that since the Marines really only wanted a cargo hauler, their requirements were relatively easy to meet, but that the Army is looking to add things like terrain mapping software and remote sensing technologies so that the bird can perform autonomous landings. Right now, a Marine operating the KMAX must control it during takeoff and landing.
Fogarty pointed out that about one-fourth of the KMAX’s missions in Afghanistan involve the retrograde of equipment from small outposts to larger bases, where they’re prepared to be shipped out of the country as part of the larger drawdown in forces by the mission end date set by president Obama by the end of 2014.
But it’s not like the Marines, or the KMAX team, don’t want added capabilities. Fogarty said that they are working on adding a high-bandwidth radio and EO/IR radar to the platform, and are working on adding an extra fuel pod inside the cabin in order to increase the KMAX’s range from the somewhat limiting 110 mile round trip range it currently has.